I’ve never been a huge Penguins fan, save for a brief period from the late-’00s through the very-early-’10s.
For yours truly, that era included a serious girlfriend that was seriously into the Penguins and Sidney Crosby (happy wife, happy life), an addiction to the championship high the Steelers helped to create with their second Super Bowl run, and expanded basic cable at basic cable prices (all of these tantalizing channels—including ESPN, Nickelodeon and whatever AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh was called back then—just mysteriously became available to me one day; much like Chandler and Joey in that one Friends episode with the free porn, I was always afraid to turn the TV off).
The serious girlfriend is long gone. The championship high the Steelers helped to create eventually went up in smoke with their post-Super Bowl slumber. As for the expanded basic cable, that disappeared one day, along with my opportunity to watch the Penguins on a regular basis and turn my brief lust for them into a true romance.
Anyway, that was just a long-winded way of saying that I’ve never really cared all that much about the Penguins, which gives me great objectivity when viewing the overall behavior of their truly diehard fans.
As it pertains to the current state of Penguins fans, let’s just say they’re really freaking out over the team being down 3-2 to the New York Islanders in the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Freaking out is nothing new for fans of any team in any sport. I certainly freak out a great deal as a diehard Steelers fan.
You must deal with a lot of blind spots when you’re a diehard fan of a particular team. I don’t have any blind spots regarding the Penguins, and that is why I have to say this: their fans are a lot like Steelers fans.
For one thing, both Steelers fans and Penguins fans like to make fun of the Pirates, as if their teams wouldn’t be in a similar predicament if not for the salary cap.
Penguins fans have their quarterback that they focus 99 percent of their attention on, and he is called the goaltender. “That was a soft goal by Fleury” was eventually replaced with “That was a soft goal by Murray.” Today, Tristan Jarry is the main cause of the Penguins playoff dilemma.
Much like Steelers fans and Mike Tomlin, Penguins supporters often wonder if Mike Sullivan will be “held accountable” for his team’s postseason failures. (BTW, “held accountable” is code for “fired.”) They also like to ask why Sullivan’s teams show a lack of effort and/or discipline.
While Steelers’ fans love to call talk shows and demand that the team get back to SMASHMOUTH football, Penguins fans often yearn for an “enforcer” to protect Crosby and Evgeni “Geno” Malkin.
There are a ton of Steelers fans who are secretly ready to move on from Ben Roethlisberger, the team’s most indispensable component (you know who you are). Of course, it would be foolish for Penguins fans to openly suggest that the team move Crosby in a trade; maybe that’s why they’re always hoping Pittsburgh can swing a deal to get Malkin out of town (you know who you are, and you don’t even try to hide it).
Despite the fact that he was one of the best centers in the NFL for the majority of his career, Steelers fans spent the past four or five years suggesting that the recently-retired Maurkice Pouncey was overrated. That’s how the last few seasons have been for Kris Letang, one of the most accomplished offensive defensemen in the entire world.
In addition to the quarterback and coach, Steelers fans love to focus their wrath on curious targets. For a while, it was Bud Dupree. Then, it was Terrell Edmunds. Now, it looks like it’s Eric Ebron’s turn in the barrel. As for Penguins fans, they once had a weird obsession with Olli Maatta. Then, it was Jack Johnson. I don’t know who it is now, but I’m sure it’s a bizarre target.
Hockey fans are notorious for wanting their teams to go “all-in” at the trade deadline. Otherwise, there’s no chance at all of winning a title. Penguins’ fans are as guilty of this as anyone, and they love to phone talk shows and propose “Our worst for their best” deals.
The trade deadline never used to be a thing with the NFL. However, since the league is like one of those streaming channels that must dabble in everything, you might say the deadline is now football’s version of “Prestige TV,” complete with familiar archetype characters—including the leader from another team that will put yours over the top, the seducing media member that insists this is the only way to win a title and the rebellious fan who threatens to turn in his/her season tickets if a deal isn’t consummated.
Finally, there’s one last way that Steelers and Penguins fans are similar: no goodwill with regards to recent championship success. Sure, the Steelers’ drought has been 13 years, but folks were already freaking out by 2011. As it pertains to Penguins fans, this is their 2011, and it’s probably only a matter of time before they start accusing Sullivan of winning back-to-back Cups with Disco Dan Bylsma’s players.
At the end of the day, we’re a lot alike when it comes to the teams we choose to put our faith in. Being a sports fan means thinking with your heart and not your head.
The teams and sports might be different, but the symptoms are all the same.